Instead of writing this recap I was out actually talking about dramas with friends for a change. In explaining my interest in watching The Moon that Embraces the Sun, I chalked it up to a hankering for easy to digest not too complicated black and white fare. This isn’t your grandma’s sageuk, it’s more like a sageuk made for kids where everything is explained in the simplest of ways without much depth or nuance. A Disney sageuk, if you will. While this worked just fine in the children’s portion, the lack of a meatier visceral storyline becomes apparent when the adults show up yet everything still appears to be progressing in such rudimentary ways. I want some added sophistication but the drama remains trotting along with it’s comfortable brand of moon-sun-separation-longing emotional hook. But I remain firmly on board this steamrolling train, having been sufficiently engaged by it all that I want to see how it all shakes out. Today the drama easily broke AGB 30% in ratings nationwide, making it the first bona fide hit of 2012.
Episode 8 recap:
Wol frantically beats against the locked doors of the palanquin, which leads to another more detailed flashback to her past. She sees glimpses of young Yeon Woo and Hwon’s interactions, and herself trying to get out of the coffin. She wonders who these memories belong to?
Princess Minhwa sticks spoons in the snow and then presses them against her swollen eyes, praying that it will go down. She takes the spoons away and finds her husband crouched down smiling at her. She wonders if her longing for him is causing her to fantasize about him? He laughs at that which alarms her to discover that he is really in front of her. She tries to turn her face away, worried that he will think she’s not pretty. Yeom teases that she is really, using his hands to turn her face towards him. She makes him pink swear that she’s pretty and he won’t leave her. Minhwa is so happy that she bear hugs him and then fall on the ground. The camera pulls away and we see a sad Seol looking in on them from outside the estate walls.
Nok Young is worried when she can’t find Wol, berating Seol for going out. A letter is delivered from the three ministers, informing Nok Young that they have taken Wol as a substitute since Nok Young refuses to return to the Palace. Nok Young orders everything packed up, as they are leaving now.
After the kidnappers open the palanquin, they are alarmed to see a passed out Wol. She awakens when one minister goes to check on her and manages to escape (and give that man a bloody nose in the process). Wol runs with the goons in pursuit of her. In the same area, Yang Myung is running away from officials eager to curry his favor. He manages to don a disguise but is quickly sussed out, leaving him no choice but to keep running and switching to another disguise. What is he? A quick change artist now?
Wol looks around when she spots a priest walking towards her. She approaches the hooded priest and asks the man to help her because she is being pursued. The man, Yang Myung in disguise, drags her away and then embraces her. She struggles out of his embrace and demands to know what he is daring to do? Yang Myung sadly asks if she doesn’t recognize him? He takes off his hat and asks again if she doesn’t recognize him?
The goons arrive and Yang Myung turns into his serious and kickass persona, warning the goons that they are dead if they dare to harm this girl. He grabs Wol and they run away, this time it’s Yang Myung holding her hand in a repeat of the scene from Yeon Woo and Hwon’s childhood. We hear a voiceover of Yang Myung asking Wol if she really is a shaman, and Wol confirming that she is. Yang Myung asks Wol to meet him at a nursery nearby and she agrees. He stops to fight the goons and give her time to run away.
Wol keeps running until the three ministers bring even more reinforcement and corner her. She is once again kidnapped. Yang Myung turns when he hears her scream, which allows one goon to cock him over the head. The goons hurry off knowing that the shaman has been captured, leaving Yang Myung collapsed on the ground with a bleeding head wound.
The minister cowers before Queen Yoon to deliver the bad news that Nok Young is refusing to return. The man informs the Queen that he managed to bring back Nok Young’s daughter, which will lure her back. More than just a hostage, he suggests using Wol as a human amulet at this time to absorb the King’s ills. Queen Yoon is aghast at using a lowly shaman to get close to the King, plus the King will surely refuse. The minister clarifies that this will all be done when the King is asleep and unaware. Queen Yoon notes that it is exactly one month until Hwon and Bo Kyung is scheduled to consummate their marriage, perhaps the shaman can bring back the King’s energy and vitality before then.
The new Head Shaman goes to see Wol and asks if she is Nok Young’s daughter? Wol just asks what she wants with her? Wol tries to struggle and asks to see Nok Young, but she gets a slap in the face for her audacity. She is threatened with death should she say or do anything that is not allowed. She is dragged away to prepare.
Woon informs Hwon that the cabin in the woods was empty when he went back to look for Wol. Hwon smiles wryly, wondering if she was indeed a ghost, a figment of his imagination. Woon wants to keep looking but Hwon calls it off. It’s better this way since they will never meet again, so they shouldn’t make more memories together. The royal physician arrives bearing medicinal tea for Hwon to drink. It contains herbs that will help Hwon sleep better. Hwon asks why he needs sleep aid? He drinks it, hoping not to dream anymore about Wol.
Wol is getting forcibly bathed to be prepared for the King as his human amulet. She cries and grits her teeth at this gross invasion of her body and will. She is dressed in white robes and an eye cover is placed over her eyes. Woon sits next to the sleeping Hwon and thinks back to being told about the use of a human amulet to cure the King’s ills. He goes outside and sees a cloaked Wol being brought into the King’s chambers. Woon removes the cloak and wants to remove Wol’s eye covering as well, but the minister stops him, claiming that doing so will lessen her spiritual powers.
Wol remains blindfolded as she is brought into Hwon’s chambers, with Hyung Sun leading the way. Inside the chambers, the blindfold is removed and she looks upon the sleeping visage of the King. Woon enters the room and kneels in the corner. He looks upon Wol and immediately recognizes her. She only has eyes for Hwon, her worry for him immediate and palpable. She leans over him to touch his forehead when suddenly Hwon calls out for Yeon Woo. He calls out Yeon Woo’s name and a tear falls from his eyes. Wol puts her hand on his forehead and a tiny smile comes over sleeping Hwon’s face.
Hwon dreams of the night he arranged the puppet show for Yeon Woo and how happy they were to sit outside and enjoy Hyung Sun’s adorable performance. Wol smiles down on Hwon, as Woon continues to watch them.
Yang Myung, sporting a bandage over his head injury, awakens and thinks he sees Wol besides him. He hears someone calling his name and it turns out to be Yeom that is besides him.
Wol finishes her service for the night and exits Hwon’s chambers. She looks back one more time before being led away.
Hwon awakens in the morning and asks Hyung Sun if anyone was at his side last night? Hyung Sun sorta lies, saying that an amulet was placed besides Hwon, neglecting to mention it was a human. Hwon used to hate any mention of spiritual matters like amulets, but surprisingly he feels great this morning. Hwon energetically heads off to court. When he passes by the serving ladies from the kitchen, he stops to compliment them on the delicious soup. His smile leaves the serving ladies agog over how this cold King is suddenly so warm today.
Hwon sits before his Ministers armed with a stack of documents detailing the government construction project. He orders workers who have family difficulties to be released home. The King orders the father of the little girl he ran into brought before the court. The man bows and proceeds to answer the King’s questions, but when he is asked if there is a dragon design on the bridge being constructed, he answers according to what the ministers have coached him. The King gives him money and tells him to go home to his family. Afterwards, Yoon Dae Hyung and his cronies give him even more money to buy his silence and make sure he doesn’t blow their story about what the construction money is being used for.
As the man heads home, he is ambushed by assassins who have clearly been sent to silence him forever. A masked man (who is clearly Woon) arrives and saves the man, safely taking him home and then moving his family somewhere safe. He confirms to the King that he did as requested.
Hwon explains to Woon that the man was clearly lying about the construction because that the bridge does not have a dragon design. Also, the man’s hands show that he wasn’t doing manual labor, but was instead a newbie learning to hold a sword. Hwon wants to know why the man is being targeted for elimination now? What will the man’s death end up concealing? Hwon suspects that the other faction is using the excuse of a government construction to gather men for a military excercise. Hwon knows his life may be at risk, but he’s still here for now.
Yoon Dae Hyung meets with his cronies and discuss how everything almost fell apart because of their eagerness. A fertility amulet has been placed in Hwon’s quarters to aid in the conception of the next heir. Until Bo Kyung delivers the future Crown Prince, that is when they will act on the next phase of their plot. Suddenly the assassin who survived Woon’s attack returns to deliver news of his failure. Yoon Dae Hyung cuts the man’s throat for failing, tacitly understanding that this is the King’s warning to him (letting this assassin remain alive to report back). Queen Yoon is thrilled that one night of the human amulet cured Hwon so much he was able to go to court.
Wol sits in her room thinking back to a sleeping Hwon, wondering who the person is that he keeps in his heart and called out in his sleep. If only she were that girl, and not a shaman, would the King be reassured then? Wol hears a commotion caused by Queen Yoon arriving to meet her, but the Queen is blocked by the new Head Shaman. The Queen is incensed until Nok Young suddenly appears and kneels before Queen Yoon. The Queen looks annoyed that Nok Young refused to come until now. Nok Young makes the excuse that her constant travels have imbued her with bad energy which she wanted to clear before coming to meet the Queen.
Queen Yoon thinks Nok Young is here because she is worried about losing her young shaman protege. Queen Yoon asks for a full recounting of the last eight years. Nok Young explains that she was severely injured from the magic she performed eight years ago so she didn’t want to return until the Heavens aligned for a good omen. She confirms for the Queen that the timing is good now, and there is even an omen for a child. Nok Young is willing to return to the Royal Astrology Office, but there is no need for two captains at the same ship. Both realize the other Head Shaman is eavesdropping and Queen Yoon immediately tells her to give up her temporary position. Queen Yoon asks to meet Wol but Nok Young explains that the human amulet is carrying dark forces which may pass to anyone who meets with her. Until she is done with her duty, she cannot have any human contact.
Seol checks out Wol to make sure she’s alright. Wol confirms that she’s fine. Nok Young enters Wol’s room and immediately tells Seol and Jang Shil to leave. The other shamans discuss how Wol is Nok Young’s daughter, no wonder she is so arrogant. Jang Shil is incensed and yells at them for daring to gossip about “the moon”, but Seol shuts her up, explaining that Wol’s name is moon. Nok Young tries to get Wol to run away with Seol but Wol doesn’t want to cause problems for everyone. She is fine, and what she is doing is not a bad thing. If she can ease his sorrow……
Nok Young reminds her that she is not supposed to have any romantic connections. She explains that the human amulet is not a human person anymore. She cannot see and cannot talk. She goes in after dark and leaves before it is light. There is no chance to ever meet. This is the fate of a human amulet, so does Wol still want to do this? Wol sees it as comforting someone. Even knowing he is the King above all, and she is the lowliest shaman, nothing will happen so Nok Young needn’t worry.
Princess Minhwa is embroidering with her mother-in-law, who looks distracted. Minhwa shows off a pair of cranes, which her mother-in-law asks what kind of insects it’s supposed to be. Minhwa doesn’t think her skills ought to be worn by her husband. Her mother-in-law makes a few suggestions to fix the cranes and offers her help. Minhwa wants to do it herself because it’s for Yeom. Minhwa sneaks into Yeom’s chambers but finds it empty. He returns and asks why she is here? Minhwa wonders why he’s always asking why she is visiting, can’t she come because she misses him? He apologizes, so she asks for a hug.
Minhwa grabs Yeom for a hug and asks if she can visit tonight. He demurs since Yang Myung is here recovering. Which is when Yang Myung returns and the two immediately breaks apart. Yang Myung teases that he didn’t see anything. He plans to leave so they can continue what they were doing. But he starts to wobble so Minhwa pouts that he needs to stay otherwise her husband will worry about him.
Hwon is doing push ups before bed with Hyung Sun begging him to rest and not tax himself any further. Hwon tells Hyung Sun to be quiet, he needs to get his blood flowing so he can achieve his goals. Hyung Sun is thrilled, thinking Hwon means conceiving a baby.
Hwon yells at him for saying such silliness and not realizing his greater purpose. He tells Hyung Sun to go away because he doesn’t want to see him right now. Hyung Sun pouts and turns to go stand in the corner like he used to. Hwon worries that he made Hyung Sun cry, but in fact Hyung Sun is crying happy tears because he sees the return of old Hwon, the one who used to teasingly berate Hyung Sun. Hwon drinks his tea and yells at his servants, all of whom scurry out, leaving Hyung Sun happily looking at a reinvigorated Hwon.
Wol arrives that evening for her usual session with Hwon. While he sleeps, she sits next to him, mentally talking to him the entire time. She sees that he furrows his brows in his sleep, wishing that he would smile more because she likes him happier. Hwon dreams about his youth again, falling in love with Yeon Woo and having fun with his friends.
The next morning, Hwon and Woon together dazzle the palace maids with their bright energy as they walk together. The maids think they look like a portrait. One wonders if the rumor is true, that the King shuns his Queen because he prefers Woon. They laugh because they also see how handsome Woon , so who wouldn’t prefer Woon? Bo Kyung sees and hears this scene, which makes her furious, having never seen Hwon smile so happy towards her before.
Yoon Dae Hyung stops his daughter from barging back to confront Hwon. He reminds her to bide her time like he taught her. Until their wedding night, he doesn’t want Bo Kyung around Hwon. She reluctantly agrees. Her father criticizes her for being unable to get the heart of a man even after so many years. If she had a baby with Hwon, things wouldn’t have come to this point. Bo Kyung asks to see her mother.
Yoon Dae Hyung greets the King, noting that Hwon is dressed in his martial arts robes so he must clearly be feeling better. Hwon thanks Yoon Dae Hyung for the present he sent, Hwon has received it. Yoon Dae Hyung thinks back to his assassin and acts like Hwon is just shooting the breeze and discussing ginseng. He offers to send more ginseng over later.
Hwon gets ready for bed. But he’s perplexed, touching his own forehead and remembering feeling someone touch his forehead. His nightly tea arrives, but this time he thinks back to Yoon Dae Hyung offering to send him more ginseng. He drinks the tea but chokes a little before finishing the rest of it.
Nok Young stands before the altar of the Royal Astrology Office. She notes that the darkness has covered the stars tonight.
Wol sits next to sleeping Hwon, happy that he’s looking better. This is the first time she is happy that she is a shaman, because she can ease the King’s suffering. She puts her hand on his forehead, but this time she has more flashbacks of her childhood memories with Hwon. She jerks her hand away when suddenly Hwon opens his eyes. He pulls her down on him, and then swiftly turns their positions around until he is pressing her down on his bed. He demands to know who she is!
Thoughts of Mine:
In MoonSun land, things continue to develop so quickly I’m actually having trouble keeping up. I can’t say I dislike it, though execution wise it’s not being delivered smoothly. This drama has the luxury of being based on a novel, so the script doesn’t tend to suffer random bouts of plot bumps the way an original screenplay usually trips up here and there. While I find the story simplistic, at least it’s narratively consistent with the moon-sun connection and the smattering of spiritual elements mixed with fate. I only wish the political machinations and motivations of the antagonists were MUCH better written. Right now I have a hard time believing Yoon Dae Hyung can be plotting against the King with so much ministerial support behind him.
Another reason I’m less enamored of the adult portions is due to the lack of chemistry all around between the OT3. Han Ga In has little to no chemistry with either Jung Il Woo or Kim Soo Hyun. Both guys are trying very hard, she’s just not connecting back. Especially with Kim Soo Hyun. When he does a scene with Han Ga In (when he’s not playing asleep), it’s like he’s dancing in circles around her while she stands still. Poor Kim Soo Hyun also has to act twice as hard when he’s doing scenes with the dude playing Woon, who is so stiff I worry he might be mistaken for a pole one of these days.
A good actor can play restrained, cold, aloof types of character but make the character feel alive. Right now Han Ga In is barely cutting it as Yeon Woo, with her air of mystery mixed with a strange longing for a man she’s just met. The dude playing Woon is so godawful I hope the drama doesn’t shoehorn in his side story about also falling in love with Wol. Watching him act all repressed longing might make me want to gouge my eyes out. Minhwa and Yeom’s story continues to be a time waster, with neither actor convincingly delivering any sense of their affectionate impasse.
I think most of the adult actors are getting shafted by having their roles played so well by their child counterparts. It leads inevitably to comparisons, and the results don’t skew in their favor. Except for Kim Soo Hyun and Kim Min Seo, the rest are not up to par. Jung Il Woo I know can do better, and I reckon he’s just needing more time to ease into his role. I see glimpses of his depth, just not delivered all the time. Han Ga In is a very detached actress in everything I’ve seen of her, with the exception of Bad Guy, which I credit to Kim Jae Wook for dragging her out of her natural state and getting a passionate performance out of her. Kim Soo Hyun is a precision actor and doesn’t have the kind of wildness Kim Jae Wook is capable of, hence he can’t help Han Ga In much in their scenes.
I accep that this is mostly what we’re going to get from the actors, with hopefully some improvement from everyone as they continue to get used to their roles and the cadence needed for a sageuk delivery. I want the story to dig deeper into everyone’s motivations and worries, pain and trauma, so that we are with them every step of the way to earning their happy endings. Cute and romantic isn’t enough to sustain the momentum much longer, even if I slurp up all the Hwon-Wol moments like a cat to cream. I loved MoonSun when it first aired, but has now settled into a comfortable like that feels here to stay.